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Covid resurge compels companies to go slow on office transition

New Delhi, Apr 12,2021 (PTI) The second COVID-19 wave has postponed corporate India''s reopening plans for now, and distributed workforces or hybrid working will be the new normal as businesses seek to reduce risk and benefit from remote working, experts said.

Corporate India''s return to office plan is likely to be staggered as the pandemic will continue to provide challenges. In a bid to ensure continuity and productive output, companies will have to provide convenient locations, latest technology and allow flexibility in tandem with evolving circumstances, they said.

"Our return to office plan will be a phased approach with not everyone returning at the same time," said Priyanka Anand, Vice President and Head of HR, South East Asia, Oceania & India, Ericsson.

Anand further noted that "in my view we will see our offices evolve to a more hybrid mode of working where we will witness a build-up of an efficient home-office infrastructure as well as policies that flexibility & balance to the workforce".

Earlier, offices were all set to reopen but with the resurgence of COVID-19 cases those plans are likely to change.

"There is no official communication on this yet but probably work from home will continue. The new wave has postponed corporate India''s reopening plans for now," said Krishna Prasad, Head HR - APAC region, Skillsoft.

Experts believe a flexi-working model is likely to be the new norm, which would mean alternate work-from-home days or shrunken workforce from offices for the next 2-3 months.

"There was reopening all across, however, depending on the nature of the work, companies may have adopted a lesser or more percentage of workforce from office or WFH. It seems that the hybrid working arrangements might continue up to June 2021 at least," said Lohit Bhatia, President, Indian Staffing Federation.

Bhatia further said, "We would request that among the working staff, the government may allow everyone above 25 years of age to be vaccinated rather than only those above 45 years."

This time around companies and employers are better prepared than 2020, when it was a sudden event. Companies are now ready with SOPs, guidelines, testing protocols, leaves in case of testing positive or support towards, medical assistance etc, to employees.

"As the second wave is coming in, we are also seeing organisations better prepared to respond to the situation both for their customers as well as workforce, said Nitin Sethi, CEO, India and South Asia - Performance, Rewards & Organization Effectiveness, Aon.

In the new future of work, hybrid is a new reality that is now strongly embedded and here to stay, Sethi noted.

"Along with bringing in better workplace collaboration while working remotely, the safety of the people has become a priority and every organisation is willing to stay flexible as they are regularly tracking the evolving government guidelines and the vaccine rollout," said Vishal Agrawal, MD, India & SAARC, Avaya.

According to Avaya''s latest study on Life and Work Beyond 2020, 77 per cent of the Indian employees have agreed to Hybrid work model as they feel it will be better for their mental wellbeing and 74 per cent of the employees have mentioned that they would support government policies to embrace hybrid working, e.g. working from anywhere, office, home or other location.

"The transition back to office will be slow and not exactly how we left it. The surge in cases has made us rethink the back-to-work plans," said Harsh Lambah, Country Manager India, Vice President Sales – South Asia, IWG plc.

A lot of companies are investing in COVID-19 safety training for employees to bring out the necessary behavioural changes related to health and safety.

"These COVID-19 safety training programs include practices regarding workplace cleanliness, waste management, hand hygiene, and instructions on using PPE, among others," said Hemant Sethi, Country Head, British Safety Council India.